Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an easy, safe, and free type of firearms training you could do at home to improve your skills and shoot better?
Well, there is, and always has been: It’s called dry fire.
Dry fire means shooting without ammo, and it’s a surprisingly helpful skill builder.
Plus…you can do it with almost any type of firearm.
We are going to dive deep into how to dry fire, cover a few dry fire drills, and of course…bust a few myths along the way.
Table of Contents
What Is Dry Fire?
Dry fire is the act of simulating the firing your weapon without ammunition.
Basically, you’re doing everything you’d normally do to fire off a shot…but without any ammo in (or even near) the gun.
Dry fire is one of my favorite ways to train new shooters in how to handle a firearm safely, and to teach them the very basics of weapon’s manipulation.
Dry fire can be done inside the home with no equipment beyond your handgun, but there are some things you need to know to stay safe, and there are a few things that can make dry fire training more effective.
Dry Fire Safety
Dry fire should be a completely safe activity. Of course you need to unload your weapon, and visually and physically ensure the weapon is clear, and a chamber flag ($10.39) wouldn’t hurt, but after that you should be totally safe.
When dry firing always keep the weapon pointed in a direction away from people, animals, etc. Now is not the time to forget the basic rules of gun safety.
If you set your firearm down to take a break, use the restroom, etc, always re-clear the weapon before you resume training. I go overboard and store ammunition in a different room entirely myself, and I recommend you do to.
Why Dry Fire?
Dry fire allows you to practice a wide variety of skills. Most importantly it allows you to build a foundation of basic skills.
Brilliance in the basics will lead to success in advanced manipulation. With dry fire, you can practice proper grip, stance, trigger control, sight picture, and sight alignment.
A little dry fire every day can help establish good habits and build muscle memory. For me, the biggest benefit was reducing my flinch.
I dry fired so much when the time came to do live fire my muscle memory was of a firearm that did not recoil. Flinch became nonexistent. I was able to train it out of me.
How To Dry Fire
Dry firing is pretty simple. Choose a gun, clear it, and pick a small-ish target.
If you can…try to take something out or hang a target specifically for dry-firing. The reason for this is to segregate your dry practice mentality.
There’s been stories where after someone finishes dry-firing and makes their weapon hot..to only practice “one more time.”
After you have a target…practice the very basics of firing your weapon. Maintain solid control of your weapon, and stress perfection.
Align the sights perfectly, pull the trigger perfectly, do not flinch or move in any way to disturb the sight. The goal here isn’t to get a ton of repetitions, it’s to get quality training.
Anything that disturbs my sights is evident, and gives me a good idea what I need to correct.
Dry Fire Drills
The most basic drill is listed above, and it’s the very basics, here are a few more you can do for training purposes.
This is a unique little trick you can do to really practice your trigger contol only needs a coin and a gun. Balance the coin on the front sight, as the coin balances practice your grip control.
Any error will cause the quarter to fall, which will show you what you’re doing wrong.
With a holster and gun you can practice your draw, as well as getting your gun on target, getting the sights aligned and firing.
Drawing practice can start slow, without a timer, and allow you to focus on the proper grip, draw, and how to get on target. You have to learn it slowly before you can learn it fast.
Remember, slow is smooth and smooth is fast.
Only go faster as you perfect it at a slower pace.
You can also practice in a more defensive manner using a realistic silhouette target and practice placing shots center mass as you draw.
Start with your slide locked to the rear, with an empty magazine inserted. You’ll need a spare magazine and magazine pouch. Remove the spring and follower from the spare magazine.
Get into your normal stance and firing position with the slide locked to the rear. Put your sights on target, register one mental “Bang” and reload your firearm.
Removing the follower and spring will allow you to send the slide home during the reload.
You can also pick up some nice training magazines for this purpose that will match the fit and feel of a loaded magazine.
Firing one handed accurately is twice as hard as firing with two hands. It’s also a good skill to have with a handgun in case of emergency. This is quite simple, practice dry firing with one hand.
Alternate between your dominant and non-dominant hand to practice with both. This allows you to train to be ambidextrous. You can also toss in practicing transitions between strong and weak hands.
You can also spice up any of the above drills by changing positions as you train. Training from the sitting, kneeling, and prone positions make you a more rounded shooter.
You can also practice engaging targets behind cover. I like to practice with a doorway acting as my cover. I train standing, kneeling, and even in the prone with both left and right hands.
When To Dry Fire
The most beneficial time to utilize dry fire is right after live fire. Your muscle memory will be fresh with your mistakes.
I tend to run my students through the “dry fire Oreo”. We start with dry fire, move to live fire and finish with dry fire.
The first few attempts of dry fire will often allow easy diagnoses of their shooting problems because mentally they’ll still be prepared to fire a live round.
When I say after shooting, I mean right after shooting, unload, show clear, and dry fire. Use the same live fire range, same target, everything. This muscle memory of mistakes will only last for about a dozen or so dry fire attempts before your body and mind remember it’s dry firing.
Any clenching, eye closing, flinching, or sympathetic movement will be apparent.
Off the range and at home I suggest trying to do 15 minutes of dry fire a day. That’s it, that’s all you need to be a better shooter. Do it after work, before work, whenever you feel productive enough to give 15 focused minutes to dry firing practice.
But Won’t it Break My Gun?
The most prevalent myth is that dry fire is bad for your gun. Like most every myth, this one contains a grain of truth.
There are a variety of firearms out there that dry firing is bad for, mainly rimfires. With a rimfire, the firing pin strikes the rim of the round, and without a round present the fire strikes the rim of the chamber.
This can lead to mushroomed and dented firing pins as well as dented chambers. The exception being some Ruger rimfires. The manual for the Ruger 10/22, Page 20, says it’s perfectly safe to dry fire their 10/22s. It’s also our best rimfire rifle for beginners, so everyone should have one…or three…in their collection.
The second group of guns is older firearms. This includes any revolver without a transfer bar and some older semi-automatics. On one of these older revolvers and semi-autos, the firing pins go too far forwards because they didn’t hit a primer.
This causes the firing pin to overtravel and for a portion of it to hit the sides of firing pin channel.
Over time this was fixed through the use of stronger firing pins in semi-automatics and the use of transfer bars and hammer blocks in revolvers. If you own a modern firearm this is not an issue for you.
If you own an antique of any kind I’d be wary of dry fire, as well as any revolver with a firing pin attached to the hammer. If you own one of these older firearms or a rimfire it’s best to make use of a Snap Cap ($16) while dry firing.
A Snap Cap is a dummy round with a soft primer. This allows the firing pin to land harmlessly on the soft primer. They even make Snap Caps for rimfire rifles, pistols, shotguns, and revolvers.
Optional Dry Fire Gear
Dry fire is prevalent enough that many shooters. As such a number of different systems has come to be that make dry firing more enjoyable, more challenging and even more beneficial.
These systems aren’t needed to benefit from dry fire but are an excellent addition. At the end of the day, you only need a gun and 15 minutes to dry fire train.
The SIRT Pistol ($439.99) is a non-gun that replicates either a full sized handgun or pocket pistol. There is also an AR 15 laser bolt that drops in to your rifle.
These systems weigh close to the same as the real guns it emulates, and utilizes an integrated laser.
This laser activates every time the trigger is pulled, and it shows you where you theoretically hit. The trigger pull is somewhat lighter than most real handguns, but for learning the basics, and having a 100% always safe option it is a solid contender.
SIRT options give you visual feedback and will function with most of the laser systems we will discuss a little later. SIRT pistols are a little pricey, but the AR bolt is quite affordable. You can even purchase extra SIRT magazines that replicated the real weight of loaded magazines for training drills
Laser Ammo Cartridges
The Laser Ammo brand offers a wide range of Laser Training options for firearms and even airsoft guns. Their flagship is the Laser Ammo cartridge. This cartridge fits in the chamber of your actual firearm and when the firing pin strikes the cartridge a laser is fired.
This allows safe and effective training with your own handgun for about half the price of the SIRT. They have options for 9mms, 380s, 45 ACP, 10mm, 223, 12 Gauge, 40 S&W, 357 SIG, 45 Long Colt, 44 Magnum, and more.
Laser Ammo even offers a wide variety of Laser Targets that react to the lasers from the Laser cartridge, and some even interact with each other.
I’ve been using these systems for a long period of time and been very happy with them. I have the 9mm cartridge kit ($139.00), the Laser Pet and I’ve spent a lot of time with the I-MTTS system.
There’s also the old stalwart…Laserlyte that’s lasted me for thousands of shots (and still going). A little less expensive than the Laser Ammo versions at around $90 a pop. You can check out the variety of calibers.
Plus some targets ($115) that let you know where you hit…and some that even make steel *ting ting* noises and move around.
Again, check out more in our Best Laser Ammo & Targets article.
You’ve seen the lasers…now here’s something that gives you exact feedback from the comfort of your phone.
The MantisX ($150) attaches to your rail and lets you know exactly what’s wrong with your trigger pull and how to fix it. Plus it also works live at the range.
Full review here…spoilers…we really like it.
Becoming a Dry Fire Pro
Becoming a dry fire pro takes time, patience, and the ability to really keep after it. 15 minutes a day can both improve your skills and maintain your skills when you can’t hit the range. Dry fire training can’t fully replace live fire training but compliments it. You’d be surprised a what a little dry fire can do for you.
Will you be adding dry fire training into your practice routine? Have any more questions about safe and effective training? Let us know in the comments below!
And check out our online Beginner Handgun Course…Gun Noob to Gun Slinger. We cover the basics PLUS how to become a crack shot.